The Let’s Make a Deal host makes no apologies for his brand of Blackness and reveals he would love a chance to play the Godfather of Soul.
There are few talents in Hollywood who can do everything, but Wayne Brady truly embodies the word entertainer. The 40-year-old master of improv has starred in hit TV shows like How I Met My Mother and has worked some of the industry's biggest stages. He is currently the host of the revamped, long-running game show Let’s Make a Deal (check your local listings).
Brady spoke candidly to BET.com about his wildest moments on Let's Make a Deal, why he doesn’t fit into anyone’s “box” and why he’d make the perfect James Brown on screen.
Let’s Make a Deal has a nearly 50-year television history, but when you were offered the job as host you turned it down repeatedly. Why?
Because in my mind there was a stereotype that goes along with being a game show host. He has a long a** microphone and a suit that doesn’t fit him well and he likes to say things like, “Fabulous!” I was like, “No, that’s not what I do.” But then they told me they wanted this to be a new version. They wanted me to do what I did and marry that with the games. So, people still leave with cash but now we have improv. Sometimes there are improvisational songs and they are characters. I don’t know what I’m going to do; the producers don’t either. There’s no script. I think that looseness is what people started to pick up on.
What’s the wildest or craziest thing that has ever happened to you on Let's Make a Deal?
To be honest with you every day is so nuts it’s hard to just pick just one moment. Because you’re dealing with people who are crazy enough to come to the show dressed like a donkey, as a Kardashian or a ninja with no pants on. Or they come dressed up as a cow wearing cowboy boots. That being said, sometimes when those people finally win money — I experience their happiness. I’ve been kicked … out of love … bear-hugged, thrown around, licked and pinched. I’ve also had my booty grabbed, my junk grabbed and I’ve been hopped on. I’ve also had people hop on somebody else, who then have hopped on and tackled me. So, every day is a crazy day at Let’s Make a Deal.
That’s so hilarious. You are a true triple threat. You can really sing, act, dance and even break-dance. Being a Black man, has that been a help or hindrance in your career?
It has worked to my advantage and to my detriment depending on the project. Most people in life like things handed to them on a very digestible, easily deciphered platform. But from the time I was a child, I refused to fit into a little box, because that was what was instilled in me from my grandmother who raised me. My job is to continue to keep doing work that reminds people, “Don’t sleep on me.” Whether it is something like [my skit on] the Chappelle Show, which people still talk about, or even my recent performance at the 2013 BET Honors. Every time I have a moment that makes people see me and go, “Did he just do that?” Then I’m doing a good thing. That’s a win for me.
How did you make peace with staying yourself in an industry where you often have to be all things to all people?
I don’t live to please people anymore and that’s very hard in a subjective business where part of your job is to have fans. I’ve always been very true to who I am. I can’t make everybody happy. I’ll either be too white for the people who don’t watch the game show, I’ll be too Black for people who see my live improv shows or I won’t be manly enough for the dude who is a thug.
Blackness comes in all packages. Why do you think who you are as a person has come under scrutiny?
No one can be harder on Black people than Black people. And I understand that, we like to claim what’s ours — we are a very loyal audience. We like to call people out when we feel they’re not being what we want them to be. I get that too. What irks me is when the person who says, “Oh, Wayne Brady isn’t Black enough for this role,” is the 26-year old white screenwriter. Then, when the creative people cast the "Blackest" dude for the role it perpetuates that idea. If we just said there are a million ways to be Black that would be amazing. Just think how much we could get done.
Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger are currently producing a James Brown feature film biopic. Has anyone ever told you that you’d be the perfect match in physique and talent to play the Godfather of Soul?
[Laughs] I’ve never been told that. But I was asked to honor him on Dancing With the Stars. I did a James Brown tribute and that was so dope. His family was there and to have them say, “No one else could have done this like you,” made my day. Then years ago Spike Lee was going to direct the James Brown story along with Tom Cruise and they were going to produce it together. Wesley Snipes was supposed to play James Brown and I was Little Richard. We did a table reading and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of in my life. I always kind of hovered around the James Brown legacy. So if I were ever given the opportunity [to play James Brown] I would jump at the chance. I think I could knock that role out of the park.
Arsenio Hall and Queen Latifah are returning to the talk show circuit. You had a three-time Emmy award-winning daytime talk show in 2002. Would you ever do one again?
I think I was a little ahead of the curve having an entertainment talk show like the one I had. My show is pretty much the show that Ellen [DeGeneres] is doing now. When I was first approached to do a talk show I even had some of her elements. I said I wanted a DJ instead of a band. I wanted it to be casual and I wanted couches.
Why couldn’t you do the show you wanted?
ABC wanted me to be the traditional talk show host, but I really wanted to talk about the things that I liked. I’m a hip hop fan, I love the culture and I grew up in it. That was something I was never allowed to express and that’s why I think this mostly lop-sided view of what I did on TV emerged. I wasn’t able to really be me. A few times I was able to achieve small victories — they let me do a certain song, or have Busta Rhymes, Eve or Missy Elliot on the show. But I think it just wasn’t the right time for it. I don’t know if I would return to a talk show. When you get kicked in the behind hard enough you move cautiously. But I fully support Arsenio and Latifah I’m glad that they are coming back. Because we really have a valid voice in that arena. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll have a talk show and end up promoting my James Brown movie on it [laughs].
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(Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Heineken)